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How much data does streaming TV use?

By Josh Levesque

Originally published May 13, 2024


Last Updated May 13, 2024

How much data does streaming TV use?

I may be dating myself here, but I remember having to hurry home to watch my favorite TV show when it aired. And if I missed it, I had to check a paper guide to see when it would re-air. But now those days are long gone, because we can all watch our favorite TV shows on our phone pretty much anywhere. Of course, streaming TV shows to your phone over a cellular network is a bit different than a cable from your wall to your television, because it requires mobile data. But exactly how much data does streaming TV use? It depends. Monitoring your data usage is important, so in this blog, we’ll go over all the variables that can affect your data usage when streaming TV on or from your phone.

In this article
 How much data does streaming use? (w/data amounts above for visibility)

How much data does streaming use? 

It’s important to remember that streaming anything on your phone when it’s not connected to Wi-Fi uses mobile data. When it comes to video, data consumption varies based on several factors, like video resolution. Streaming standard definition video uses approximately 1GB per hour, streaming high definition video uses approximately 2.5GB per hour and streaming Ultra HD can use up to 9GB per hour.

How much data does streaming live TV use? 

Maybe you’re out running errands but the game’s about to start and you don’t want to miss the first pitch (or kickoff, or puck drop, or tip-off… pick your sport). Fortunately, you can stream live TV on your phone now, including sports. This does use noticeably more data though, since streaming live content requires a constant data flow and the video cannot be compressed or optimized in real time. Streaming live TV uses, on average, approximately 3GB per hour, which is about three times as much as on demand content.

What factors impact data usage when streaming TV?
Video Quality
Video Duration
Live vs Pre-recorded

What factors impact data usage when streaming TV? 

There are three factors that most directly affect your data usage when streaming TV content, and those factors are video quality, video duration and whether the content is live or pre-recorded. 

Video quality

Just like the difference between standard definition and high definition video is clearly visible, the difference in data usage between the two is pretty glaring as well. Streaming standard definition video content uses about 1-2GB of data per hour, while high definition content can eat approximately 3-4GB of data per hour and streaming the ultra HD (4K and beyond) stuff can chew through as much as 10GB of data per hour. 

Video duration

It may seem obvious that yes, longer videos require more data to stream (especially since we just mentioned the per hour rates in the paragraph above). So to reiterate, a one-hour, on demand episode of something in standard definition is going to use about 2-3GB of data while a two-hour episode (holiday special perhaps?) will use about 4-6GB of data. 

Live vs pre-recorded content

Pre-recorded (on demand) content tends to be “compressed,” meaning the file size has been reduced without affecting its video quality. The smaller a video’s file size, the less data needed to stream it. Live video can’t be compressed in real time, so the file size is larger. Add that to the fact that your phone is working extra hard to show you something as it happens (since it can’t load video that hasn’t happened yet) and you’ll understand why live content requires more data to stream than on demand stuff. 

How much data do different streaming video platforms use? 

Not only does it vary by video content, but the amount of data used to stream TV also varies by app. You can use the info we’ve covered so far to make a good estimate, but we’ve also got separate blogs dedicated to some of the most popular video streaming platforms, whether you’re watching Netflix, Hulu or YouTube.

How to check your data usage when streaming TV

How to check your data usage when streaming TV

It’s one thing to ask “How much data does streaming TV use?” but it’s another to ask how many hours you’ve spent watching your favorite content so far this month. Let’s be honest, I don’t even know how much time I’ve spent on this blog. One hour? Five days? Whatever it takes to provide quality information. Fortunately, you can check your data usage in your phone’s settings to see how many GBs you’ve given to Netflix, Hulu or any other streaming apps you might frequent. It’s the next best thing to tracking your data usage in real time while streaming (since you can’t do that). 

Checking data usage on iPhone 

  1. Go into your iPhone Settings
  2. Select “Cellular” 
  3. Scroll down and select “Cellular Data”
  4. Scroll down to the list of apps and you’ll see the current data usage next to each one

Checking data usage on Android 

  1. Go into your iPhone Settings
  2. Select “Network and Internet” 
  3. Select ”Mobile Network”
    • This may also be found under “Connections”
  4. Scroll down to find “App data usage” or “Mobile data usage” and select it
  5. Scroll down to the list of apps and you’ll see the current data usage next to each one

How to reduce your data usage when streaming TV

As with a lot of the things we discussed here, these options can vary depending on what you’re streaming and how you’re streaming it. But there are a few basic steps you can take when streaming TV that will help you save more than a few GBs of mobile data. 

Stream over Wi-Fi

If it seems like we recommend Wi-Fi a lot, it’s because streaming over Wi-Fi doesn’t use your mobile data at all. You can binge an entire season and then some in full 4K Ultra HD and, as long as you have a stable Wi-Fi connection the whole time, your mobile data allotment will remain untouched.

Use the app’s data saver 

Many apps, like Hulu, offer a “data saver” setting that will automatically make adjustments to the content you stream to optimize it for lower data usage. Check the account settings on your favorite streaming apps to find this data saver option.

Adjust the streaming quality

As we’ve said before, the higher the definition, the higher number of GBs needed to stream it. Many streaming apps allow you to modify the video quality of the content you stream, so it will use less data. 

Turn off background app refresh

This isn’t so much affected by the content you’re streaming, but if you’re planning to watch four or five episodes of your favorite sitcom, you probably don’t need your other apps refreshing in the background (and thus, using more data). You can learn more about background app refresh from our other dedicated blog. 

Download content in advance

Many streaming platforms also offer the option to download content for later viewing. That docuseries you’re planning to watch on your upcoming cross-country flight? Download it to your phone the night before while connected to Wi-Fi, and you won’t use any mobile data to stream it. 

Now you’ve got the data… and the information 

We’ve covered all the variables that can affect how much data is used when you stream TV on your phone, and now you can apply that knowledge to your viewing habits and make more informed decisions when it comes to what you stream. If you’re suddenly very interested in all things mobile data, we have other blogs that answer questions like “What is mobile data?” “How many MB are in a GB?” or “How much is 5GB and how long will it last me?” Of course, if you just need to know how much data you need, we have you covered there too. 

At Mint, we take your data usage very seriously. Well, we take saving you money very seriously too, and that coincides with data usage. Optimizing your data usage and helping you use less means you can pay less by purchasing a lower data plan. That’s right, we help you use as little mobile data as possible because we want you to pay us as little as possible. A novel idea, we know… but that’s just how we do things here.

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